Five ways I can prepare myself to make better decisions.

If you are facing the possibility of divorce, you will soon be making decisions that could affect you and your family for many years. The purpose of this section is to give you five useful steps to making better decisions.

1. Prepare Yourself. (i.e. Take care of yourself.)
2. Create a Plan
3. Learn some basic things about divorce law
4. Learn about your process choices
What about percentages of time?
Who can help us in creating our parenting plan?
1. Prepare Yourself. (i.e. Take care of yourself.)

Perhaps the most critical element of making good decisions is preparing yourself to be in a position to make the best possible judgments.  This is not as easy as it may seem.  Divorce is incredibly unfair in that it asks you to make the most difficult decisions in your life, at a time in which you may feel least equipped to do so.  The anger, fear, and sadness that often accompany divorce can often cause the most rational person to act against his or her own best interests.

If you recognize that your judgment may be impaired by the emotions surrounding the divorce you are ahead of many people.  It is easy to act out of fear or anger in a divorce without realizing how much these emotions are impairing your judgment.  Once you have recognized the negative impact of these emotions you can start to consider what to do about them.

Time
There is an old saying that time heals all wounds.  While that may not be literally true, it is a fact that much pain will dissipate with the passage of time. Therefore, taking steps to slow down your divorce might sometimes increase your ability to make better decisions.

Sometimes people have the opposite reaction. The pain and difficulty of the divorce can be so great, that there can be a very natural tendency to rush through the divorce decisions with the belief that the healing cannot begin until the divorce is over.  This type of thinking, while completely understandable, can lead to hurried decisions that, in the end, can prolong difficulties.  Therefore, it is important to try to set a pace for your divorce that allows you to prepare yourself to make the best possible decisions.

And, while time will heal some wounds, it is important to look at divorce as a healthcare issue in which additional assistance is necessary or helpful.

Help/Advice and Support
Most people rely on others to help them through a divorce.  This can be professional help, such as therapists, support groups or clergy etc. or support from family and friends.  For women in Minnesota there is even a weekend retreat to help provide the support they need.  (For more information go to www.daisycampforyou.com).  This is your time to take the best care of yourself.  In seeking support  from others, it is important to separate legal, financial and parenting advice that you will get  from paid professionals, from your “support network” that is there to help you with your emotional wellbeing.  While friends and family members mean well when they provide expert advice,  their advice will often conflict with the professional advice that you are receiving and may add to your stress.  Confusing the need for advice with the need for support rarely goes unpunished, particularly in divorce.

2. Create a Plan

Another critical element in helping you make the best possible decisions is to have a plan and set goals.  The drama of a divorce can easily cause people to focus all of their energy and money on short-term “urgent” issues, while losing sight of the far more important “big-picture” goals.

If you do not have a clear idea of where you are going, you will end up someplace else. Many of us have heard countless stories of people in divorce who spent thousands of dollars fighting over matters of small significance.  Having a clear plan will help you from falling into this common trap.   As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”  When we use the word “plan” here, we mean a focus on big-picture goals, interests or aspirations, rather than specific positions or details that tend to overwhelm us during divorce. This is your time to sit down and write out what you want your life to look like 2, 5 or 10 years from now.  Do not be afraid to set your sights high.  Having a dream worth pursuing will make it easier to bear the strain of some of the hard choices you will need to make during your divorce.
3. Learn some basic things about divorce law

Of course, making the best possible decisions during a divorce is also a function of getting education.  You are about to embark on a journey through a strange land.  And while you will likely hire guides to help you on this journey, (such as attorneys or counselors), it is important that you educate yourself as well, so that you will be able to actively participate in planning your future.While there are many areas in which you will want to gain knowledge, we will focus on the two primary areas here:  The law and the divorce process.

During your divorce, you will, of course, want to gain a clear understanding about how the law will impact your decisions during the divorce.   As you will see, the law, while helpful, will not answer all of the questions about how your divorce decisions will be made.  Most laws simply provide a framework for your decisions, leaving it to you and your spouse to make decisions within that framework.Your education about the law, as it relates to divorce, will likely come in layers.  Your lawyer, and others, will likely give you advice about this throughout the process.   However, it is a good idea to get an overview of the law, at the very beginning so that you will have a general understanding of how the law may affect your decisions. For a general overview of the law, click here.

4. Learn about your process choices

As important as it is to have some understanding of the law, before you get started, it is probably even more important to have some understanding about the divorce process.  That is because you will very likely be making divorce process choices very soon, they will have a major impact on the outcome of your divorce.

When we talk about process here, we mean the ways in which decisions get made.  As we have already discussed, divorce is, among other things, a series of decisions.  How those decisions get made could be more important than the decision themselves. To learn about process choices, click here.

Choosing the right process for you can be difficult, but it worth the extra effort.  It could be the most important decision you make in the divorce.  The best way to get the necessary second layer of information is to interview competent professionals who work in each of these areas to help you make the best decision for your family.  For samples of questions to ask various professionals, click here.

Two Layers of Competent Information
We recommend that, before making any important divorce decisions,  you need to obtain two layers of competent information.

The first layer is made up of the written information, through websites, books, articles, materials that are readily accessible to you to give you some background about your decisions, before you meet with a professional.  We do not recommend relying on this information alone.  No website, book or article can address your unique situation or answer your specific questions.  However, this first layer of information can form a foundation and help you ask questions of competent professionals, when you are ready to move into the second layer of information.

It is important to get competent information at both levels, including the written information you receive.  Much of what you read, (including this website) is comprised largely of opinions of the author.  Therefore, you need to make sure the materials and opinions are created by someone who is competent in a particular area.  We live in an information age, in which we are surrounded by articles and websites generated by millions of people.  A website, for example, can be written by a leading professional in a particular field, or by an individual who simply wants to express a point of view.  It is critical to check out the information.  To learn what we mean by “competent” information, click here.  To learn about this website, and to help you gauge the competence of the information you are reading, click here.

The second layer of information will come from the professionals that will help you through the divorce. In order to seek out this second layer of competent information, you need to think about how to find professional help that you can trust.  It is important that you interview professionals thoroughly and that you make sure that you are being advised based upon the actual experience and training of the professional and not on biases or second hand information.

What about percentages of time?

Often parents go into a divorce with an idea of wanting a particular “percentage of time” with the children (such as 50%).  It is sometimes confusing to look at percentages because there are so many variables. For example, does school time or sleeping time count the same as weekends?  Does a parent who has only 40% of the time but sees the children during the weekends have less parenting time time than the parent who has mid week time.  More importantly, your children very likley do not care about percentages of time. They may want 100% of mom 100% of the time and 100% of dad 100% of the time. Therefore, focusing strictly on percentages of time can put the children in the middle of your conflict instead of at the center.  Perhaps the parent who is insisting on 50% of the time is truly saying that they do not want to be a “lesser parent” in an way.  If that is the real concern, (and it can be an understandable concern), there are likely ways to give each parent equal stature and worth that do not necessarily require parents to count all of the hours in the week or to focus on percentages. The suggestion of focusing on the real needs of the children, rather than custody labels and percentages of time is based on a theory called “interest based” decision making.   Under that theory, people make better decisions when they start by focusing on what they really care about, (i.e. their true interests) rather than on “positions” such as custody labels and percentages of time.  To learn more about what is meant by the phrase “interest based decision making” please click here.

Who can help us in creating our parenting plan?

While some people are able to develop strong parenting plans on their own, most people can benefit from getting some help in creating a plan that truly addresses the needs of your children.  There are many different types of professionals who can help you with your parenting plans and many different roles that these professionals may have.  So, your success may depend on determining the kinds of professionals that can help you.  Let’s look at the professional options separately.

The two big questions in getting help:  Expertise and Neutrality.

In deciding what kind of help will be most useful, (with parenting or any other issue) it is best to think about two key questions.  What kind of expertise do you need and do you want a “Neutral” or an “ally” (or some of both)?

Expertise: Professionals who work in the area of divorce generally have one or more of the following areas of expertise: law, negotiation, child development, communication and relationships, and financial.  Successful parenting plans sometimes require some expertise in all of those areas.  But let’s start by thinking about what is the most critical expertise that you need.

Lawyers and Judges: A common mistake that people make is to think that their best resource for determining parenting issues in a divorce is either an attorney or a judge.   Although lawyers and judges may have a role in your final decisions, it generally makes sense to look outside of those professions.   Almost any judge who has worked in divorce will agree that you do not want a judge to decide details of the parenting of your children if you can make the decision yourselves. No matter how well intentioned the judge may be, he or she does not know as much about your family as you do and their background is in law and not child development.  As a result, fewer than 3% of final parenting decisions are made by judges.

While it is much more common to have lawyers help with parenting decisions, lawyers like judges, do not generally have backgrounds in child development. Therefore, while lawyers can help you sort out your options, think about negotiating strategies, or draft your agreement, they are not generally the best experts available to tell you about the unique needs of your children.

Mental Health Professionals:  Often the best professionals to help you with parenting plans are mental healh professionals.  Child psychologists who focus on working with divorcing families can provide valuable insights about how to address the developmentnal needs of children in divorce.  They can also meet with your chldren and help you understand the specific needs of your children.  (This is different than child therapy, although one of the things that a child psychologist may recommend is therapy.)   Mental healh professionals who work with divorcing adults can also help you with your parenting plan or help you on the emotional isssues or communication problems that may be impacting your abilit to coparent your children successfully.   Again, this is separate from therapy in that the focus is specifically on helping you with specific issues relating to your divorce.

The best parenting plans are generally created with the help of people that know the most about parenting and relationships.   While that may seem obvious, most people have difficulty finding parenting assistance.  While there are many people in our communities who have expertise in parenting or relationships, there is often confusion as to where these people fit in the divorce process.  If you ask for any professional to assist you with you on your parenting plan, (or any part of your divorce), it is important to distinguish the people who are hired to help both parents from the people you hire to work on your behalf.

Mediators.   Mediators are neutral professionals who can help you will also aspect of your divorce, including your parenting plans.  Mediators can come from from a variety of professional backgrounds, including attorneys, mental healh proffesssionals and people with background in business.  For more on mediation, please go to the website section on process choices.

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